For every experienced and dedicated dog owner, there is someone, somewhere that they can learn from. There are pillars of good dog ownership practice that are considered by many to be useful and it is how we apply these principals that differ from dog owner to dog owner.
Depending on environment, experience and the type of dog, each good dog owner will have something in his dog ownership ‘locker’ that the next owner hadn’t thought of. How we learn from other dog owners and what we do with the things that we learn will dictate the future happiness of our dogs. And the happiness of our dogs, as we all know, is what we strive for.
John Taylor explores the habits that make effective dog owners.
How we learn from other dog owners and what we do with the things that we learn will dictate the future happiness of our dogs. And the happiness of our dogs will dictate the level of fulfillment and reward we get from sharing our life with those dogs. Each good dog owner is different, but by the same token, each dog owner has certain essential things in common.
The seven habits of highly effective dog owners should be common in their theory across the board, but differ in their application depending on the circumstances. They are key principals that any dog owner, anywhere can put into practice to ensure that they become highly effective dog owners themselves.
Nutrition should be looked at as fuel for your dog's finely tuned engine. And as such, it is important for effective dog owners to keep in mind that there is no one universally suitable dog food, just like there is no fuel that works for every engine.
The wrong type of food, served in the wrong portion size in the wrong way can do more harm than you'd think. Highly active dogs need food that delivers energy in the form of protein, enabling them to satisfy their natural instincts, for example.
Effective dog owners will also take into account the age and lifestyle of their dog when looking into his diet. Puppies need food that supports growth, but not all puppies grow at the same rate. Large breeds grow at a slow pace and small breeds grow more quickly, so calcium is an essential concern. Dogs growing more quickly need a high concentration of calcium in their diet.
Understanding the properties and effects of each type of food and how that relates to your dog's lifestyle will empower you to chose the right food for the right time for your dog.
Older dogs have less active lifestyles, so burn off less fat or energy. Therefore they need foods that support their body in terms of delivering the required nutrition, but they need to be fed in a way that ensures no excess calories are remaining.
Oily fish, iron rich greens and roughage are essential at all stages of your dog's life.
Exercise is the flip-side of the diet coin. It needs to reflect the needs of the breed. All dogs require exercise, but the key to effective dog ownership is interpreting the information at hand to shape your dog's exercise regimen.
Young dogs, for example, must not be over-exercised as this can have a bad impact on their growing bones and joints. However, they must be given the opportunity to burn off their energy and to see the outside world whilst strengthening their bodies. Exercising a young dog on a lead allows a dog owner to measure the amount of exercise their dog is receiving. It is also essential to understand that young dogs will want to keep going, despite them having had sufficient or even too much physical exertion.
Knowing your dog's breed characteristics is important in fostering a good and beneficial exercise regime. Long walks, free running, games and play are the ingredients to a successful exercise routine. You will know how your breed responds to certain stimuli and will use this to inform how you exercise your dog.
In older dogs, exercise is equally important. To avoid obesity for example, an older dog must be given the chance and in some cases, encouraged, to exercise in order to maintain mobility and use up energy. Paying close attention to your dog's habits throughout his life will enable you to judge when your dog is tired or in discomfort.
Neglecting exercise will result in behavioural and emotional problems for your dog. The need to burn off energy will manifest itself in undesirable ways that will cause tension between owner and dog. A dog needs the opportunity to let loose and explore his environment, if this is denied him, his behaviour and emotional well being will suffer.
A dog that is allowed to get bored will soon make his own fun - and this may very well include destructive behaviour. Mental stimulation should not be an isolated element of dog ownership, but should be as natural and as constant a part of your everyday routine as it is possible to get. The environment in which your dog lives should be stimulating, every opportunity to stimulate and challenge your dog - taking into account breed and age - should be taken.
No effective dog owner sets aside ten minutes a day to mentally stimulate their dog, they use all of the resources at their disposal to ensure mental stimulation is on hand constantly.
For example, designing your garden to allow your dog to explore or hide is a perfect way of supplying stimulating experiences on tap. Knowing what it is that gets your dog going is a good way of informing such decisions.
Keeping objects close by to stimulate your dog is another effective habit to ensure he never quite switches off. Planning for when your dog is alone, to provide something of interest, is a great habit to get into as it removes the dread of solitude and can be an effective way of combating separation anxiety.
Paying attention to your dog when he is stimulated will enable you to judge which stimulants have the best effect. This is not to say that you should stick to the same routine constantly. Mixing up routines is a mental stimulant in itself. You can take feeding time and turn it into a stimulating affair by making your dog work for his food. Understanding your dog's instincts and likely behaviours will empower you to find ways of challenging his mind.
Understand The Dog As A Dog
Ineffective dog owners fail to understand that their dog is an animal and as a result indulge themselves in anthropomorphism. This is where they project human needs and characteristics on to their dog and respond to them, rather than responding to their dog's actual, immediate needs and instincts.
Treating a dog like a human is an easy habit to slip into, but understanding your dog as a dog is a habit that should underpin all other elements of dog ownership. Realising that your dog harbours survival instincts will enable you to understand and correct bad behaviour more easily.
Recognising that your dog does not comprehend human emotions such as guilt or embarrassment, and functions purely on an instinctive thread will equip you to make the most of training, play and exercise.
Dogs respond to their in built need to ensure survival. So removing food, enforcing solitude and interfering with normal canine interaction are ways in which ineffective dog owners will damage their dog's natural development. Accepting that your dog needs to be able to act like a dog will enable you to understand his behaviour and better attune yourself to his most pressing needs.
Carrying on from understanding your dog as a dog, it is essential that your dog is allowed to socialise with other dogs and people. Dogs are social animals, in the wild they would live as a pack and they are still programmed to function as part of a pack despite domestication.
Effective dog owners recognise this and use it as a way of stimulating and responding to their dog's prime instincts. Dogs do not develop properly if denied the chance to interact with other dogs. Socialisation is a way for them to learn boundaries, understand their environment and to hone their own communication skills.
Like wise, human-canine socialisation is important. Domesticated dogs, despite their instincts, recognise humans as a fixture of their environment. They need to be able to mix with humans of different ages, sexes and personalities so that they may understand how their presence relates to their surroundings.
The natural world is nothing if not consistent. The need to feed, breed and survive are three key elements to a dog's personality and behaviour. In the domestic environment, an effective dog owner will be consistent in everything they do to ensure that the dog is not confused, misled or disrupted.
In training, responses to bad behaviour must be consistent, equal and fair. A dog does not understand retrospective punishment, it lives in the present and can not link a past act to a present stimulus. This is where a lot of dog owners make mistakes. Whilst it is disappointing to find that your dog has chewed up your jacket, it is worthless and indeed counter-productive to punish or correct the dog after the fact.
It is also essential to be consistent in your setting and application of ground rules. Dogs remember the results from the last time something happened. If your dog is not allowed to be on the sofa, accept for when it is raining, for example, he will not make the association between the rain and getting on the sofa. He will simply remember that yesterday, he climbed up and there was no corrective action. So today, in your dog's mind, being on the sofa is acceptable.
It is important to remain consistent with levels of correction. Regardless of mood, circumstances or consequences, an inappropriate act must be met with the same response each time.
Effective dog owners understand the need to provide an environment in which the dog is not given the opportunity to make mistakes and behave badly. Consistency is key to this. Feeding your dog, just once, from the table is effectively encouraging your dog to make a nuisance of himself each time you sit down to eat. If you don't want your dog to seek food whilst you're eating, don't give him the idea that his efforts may, some day, bring rewards. And certainly do not scold your dog for begging if you have previously endorsed this behaviour by giving food. Simply ignore him until he goes away.
The habit of consistency is a difficult one to stick to, but the rewards are worth it. Equip your dog with the knowledge and understanding that boundaries and limits are unbreakable and that his delinquency from these parameters will elicit the same response from you each and every time. Then it is up to the dog to weigh up the likely consequences of his actions with the potential rewards. If you have been consistent, your dog will certainly choose not to behave badly. Give him the information to make the right decision.
Again, the habit of patience is linked to understanding your dog as a dog. Being aware of your dog's environment from his perspective will enable you to judge where and when patience is appropriate and also, when it is best to remove your dog from an environment all together.
For example, you're trying to train your dog to fetch, but the lawnmower next door is causing a distraction. If your dog has previously not shown any response to the lawnmower, be patient and persevere. If you know however, through observation that your dog is frightened by the lawnmower, accept that he is distracted and wait for a better time to continue training.
Sometimes, dogs simply don't live up to our expectations when it comes to behaviour. They may be ill, distracted, confused or simply unaware that their behaviour is unwanted. Your patience will give you a chance to better understand your dog, to bond with your dog and hopefully to reward your dog when he gets things right. It will also give your dog a chance to learn and develop.
Patience is a key habit of effective dog ownership in respect of responding to unwanted behaviour. If you take into account your dog's natural urges, personal habits and response to stimuli, you can judge quite easily whether your dog is in need of a patient, reassuring owner or a firm owner. Both are appropriate responses in certain situations but patience is key to giving yourself time to judge.
Dogs from time to time will mess up, just like we do. But being able to identify honest mistakes, instinct taking over and fear responses that may cause misbehaviour will set the groundwork for a rewarding and cooperative relationship with your dog.